Future-gazing construction ICT

This morning I discovered a SCRI Research Report, Future Generation of IT (PDF), published in June and reporting on discussions held at a ‘vision planning workshop’ hosted at Salford University back in January (2009). The aim of the event was to “identify possible futures that the construction industry might face and to start developing a construction IT vision for the year 2030“. I have attended a number of SCRI events over the year, and have always enjoyed the exchange of ideas between academia and industry participants (though this event looks like it was heavily dominated by the former). At first glance, I felt the 28-page report had overlooked the potential impact of ‘social media‘ (neither that term, nor ‘Web 2.0’, feature anywhere in the document), but reading the document, I think the tools and techniques we currently associate with social media are implicit in a lot of the discussion and recommendations. For example, the executive summary talks about more flexible and holistic approaches:

People will have more time to do creative work and the new technologies such as ubiquitous computing, collaboration tools, [and] decision making tools will enable a more flexible working style. Integrated, flexible and adaptable IT which was implemented with a holistic view was also another vision for 2030. (p.2)

Four different scenarios sketched out in the report included one called ‘Lean and Mean’. Here:

The teams involved in the design can be globally dispersed. Free access to information will start to emanate from society and from the industry. Collaborative workspaces will enable sharing knowledge between people with the knowledge throughout the world. (p.18 – my emphasis)

For people, a more connected, collaborative future of ICT in construction was envisaged (these are just a few extracts):

… Home working, remote working, mobile working will be much more possible and feasible.  … Technologies like second life might provide the means for the interaction of the whole supply chain and design teams. … In future, IT will naturally become a part of the life of end-users. IT tools will become much more ubiquitous, pervasive and intuitive. … (p.20 – my emphasis)

Other future-gazing The SCRI report represents the distilled views of just 28 individuals and yet provides a surprisingly wide-ranging – and, in my view, optimistic – forecast of the future of construction ICT. For me, it makes additionally interesting reading as the SCRI workshop was conducted almost entirely separately to a similar exercise undertaken for the National Platform for the Built Environment. I was part of a working group that produced a scoping study on ICT and Automation (PDF) in late 2007. Following the completion of two other parallel reports, the National Platform published a revised Strategic Research Agenda (PDF) in July 2009, but in the meantime, members of the working groups had been engaged in a further workshop session in London in March 2009 – leading to several potential projects being identified for further research – many of which (thankfully) parallel recommendations made by the SCRI study, and two even mention social media/Web 2.0.

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